ZF, TRW merger could mean more Mich. jobs

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

A $12.4 billion acquisition of Livonia-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. by German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen could mean more jobs and investments in Michigan, according to executives.

ZF CEO Stefan Sommer said the deal — announced Monday — was designed to combine operations, not consolidate.

“We don’t need to gain some quick savings,” he said Wednesday night during a media event at its North American headquarters in Northville. “It’s a complementary deal. We want to gain strengths.”

ZF employs 1,400 employees at its headquarters and two manufacturing facilities in Lapeer and Marysville. TRW employs about 3,500 in Michigan at 15 facilities. John C. Plant, chairman and CEO of TRW, said TRW is looking to acquire another facility in Michigan and add hundreds of employees. Sommer said ZF also plans to add 100 more engineers in Northville during the next year.

ZF is paying $12.4 billion for TRW, or $105.60 a share. The stock closed Wednesday at $102.84, down 14 cents. Combined, the companies will become the world’s second-largest automotive supplier by sales, employ more than 138,000 people and have research and development expenditures of roughly $2.1 billion.

TRW, according to Sommer, was attractive to ZF because of its strengths in vehicle technologies, aftermarket reputation and strong balance sheet. He said the combined companies will have a broad range of technologies to fill growing needs for fuel economy, safety requirements and autonomous driving.

“We think these are the dominating technology growth drivers in the future,” Sommer said. “I do not see any company in the world that is fulfilling the technology needs of these combined three megatrends as good as the combination of ZF and TRW.”

TRW makes engine and safety parts such as seat belts and air bags. ZF specializes in transmissions and steering systems, as well as other automotive components. Following acquisition approval, officials say TRW will become a separate business division of ZF, which will remain headquartered in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

ZF provides parts for the automakers around the globe, with the majority of its business in transmissions and chassis systems. The privately-held company has done business in the U.S. since 1979. It operates 12 sites, including an automatic transmission plant in South Carolina that opened last year.

With the acquisition, ZF would more than double its sales in two of the most significant countries of the world for automotive sales: China and the U.S.

The deal needs approval of TRW’s stockholders representing more than 50 percent of its outstanding shares, as well as antitrust and U.S. foreign investment clearance. ZF expects the transaction to close in the first half of 2015.

Many financial firms, including Sterne Agee, downgraded TRW’s stock this week. Sterne Agee analyst Michael Ward said the downgrading is a “formality” because it expects the merger to be approved and ZF to pay $105.60 a share. After closing, TRW will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

As automakers have demanded more parts due to globalization and increased sales, many suppliers have had to accelerate investments and acquire other companies to grow production and develop new technologies.

According to the Michigan Economic Development office, the state’s automotive suppliers dropped from 886 to 790 from 2009-2013. But those same companies have announced about $5 billion in new investments during the same period.